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The end from the beginning

By Josef Omorotionmwan
HOW many people saw the German war monger who was trapped, fighting in one of those thick forests in Japan during the Second World War, which ended in 1945?

It was around 1984 that the man staggered out of the forest, claiming he did not know that the war had since ended. Only God knows how many innocent Japanese souls the man dispatched to death during the 39-year overtime period.

We keep wondering about the level of PHCN’s participation in the one-day warning strike, which Nigerian workers embarked upon to drive home their point on the N18,000 per month minimum wage.

There may be no clear-cut answer to this: For some, all they have ever known is total darkness and PHCN could as well remain on strike ad infinitum. For yet another category, the light went off exactly at midnight on November 10 and that was how they knew that the strike had started.

Whereas the strike was supposed to have been called off at midnight of November 11, perhaps in the tradition of the German war monger, days after, PHCN has not known that the strike is over! PHCN provides another case of spitting into the mouth of a man who was already intent on vomiting.

All those patriotic to the Nigerian cause must continue to appreciate organised labour for their patience. Who else would accept the lousy excuse of the promise of an accelerated attention from the National Assembly for calling off a reasonable strike, which in a few hours had virtually brought the leadership of this country to its knees?

What is accelerated attention? Are all measures that get to the National Assembly not deserving of accelerated attention? From the lessons of history, which attention can be accelerated at the National Assembly when it does not touch on the welfare of the legislators?

Or, are we talking of the type of accelerated attention, which they promised on the Freedom of Information Bill at presentation and after three National Assemblies – 12 years down the alley – the Bill is still cooling off in the deep freezer? Our President says he will get the measure through the National Assembly in three months?

How does he intend to do that? How much control does he have over Bills presented to the National Assembly? In fact, if he is as sure as he sounds, it only means that the two branches of government have been working in perfect collusion against the people.

In any case, how much acceleration has the plight of workers ever received in this country? We are reminded that the last attempt to look at the minimum wage issue was during the Shagari years when we had the National Minimum Wage Act, 1981, which culminated to the approval of a national minimum wage of N125 per annum.

This is the pot-hole we have been sand-filling since then. The Justice Belgore Committee was inaugurated on July 14, 2009. For one whole year, the Committee went on frolics and finally submitted its report on July 14, 2010. This was perhaps our perfect idea of an accelerated attention! The Committee recommended a minimum wage of N18,000 per month.

As if we must always wait for Nigerian workers to go on strike before granting them their legitimate entitlement, the Belgore Report was put under lock and key until November 10, 2010 when the bubble had to burst. Four months behind schedule, we are now starting from the beginning.

The next stages – legislation and implementation – will be as intriguing as they will be crucial. We can almost see the end from the beginning. For the National Assembly, it will be a defining moment. We see the N18,000 being approved as soon as it hits the floors of both chambers.

The National Assembly lacks the moral courage to do otherwise. It will be interesting to see how they will tell the workers that N18,000 is too high, particularly in the face of the millions that individual legislators haul away as bogus salaries, quarterly allocations, constituency and lunch allowances, the veritable slush funds provided by the so-called constituency projects, free accommodation, free passage, and their heavy baggage of sycophantic political aides.

Which ever way the National Assembly goes, there are challenges ahead. If they fail to approve the recommended sum, they will be in trouble, particularly now that the workers are conscious of the fact that strike is a potent instrument in their hands.

If they approve, there will be the greater trouble of implementation, particularly against the backdrop that up till now, many states have not been able to implement the N7,500 per month requirement. By the time sporadic strikes break out in every direction, a remedy must be sought.

One thing is clear, though: The minimum wage issue cannot be treated in isolation from the Revenue Allocation formula. These are inseparable twins. Both are long overdue for critical review.

The National Assembly cannot continue to run away from a situation in which the Federal Government has so much to eat, to waste, to steal and to throw around while the state and local governments that really need the money are starving.

Again, when are the state and local governments going to shine their eyes on the management of the Federation Account? ‘Big Brother’ may be moonlighting there. Watch out! And shine your eyes well, well for, therein lies some flicker of hope.


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